TUSCALOOSA | Despite an ungovernable visitor who wanted to burn down the house, the University of Alabama basketball team escaped with only a slight blow on Monday night.
Ja Morant of Murray State scored 38 points in a spectacular performance, but Alabama used its superior size and some hand shots from Kira Lewis to get a 78-72 victory over the Racers.
Morant made 16 of 29 shots and was six of nine from the foul line.
"Nine times out of ten, you see the guys in a movie and when they walk into the building, they're not the same," said Alabama forward John Petty. "He was the same, it's exactly what we saw in the movie: a great player."
Alabama had only a two-point lead (70-68) with 26 seconds remaining, but the Crimson Tide was able to close the victory with 8-of-8 misses on the stretch.
"I tried to explain that they have a high level player who can win the game for himself and that the other guys are complementary and they will eliminate him," Alabama coach Avery Johnson said. "Now, they understand what I was telling them."
Crimson Tide (5-1) started slowly, falling behind 13-7 in the first seven minutes. But UA responded with an 18-5 run and advanced to a halftime lead of 10 points, 39-29.
The Racers (3-1) eliminated that advantage almost immediately after leaving the locker room, starting in a 10-2 run and taking a 44-43 lead on Morant's plate with 15:19 to play. Lewis hit two pressure jumpers in the next five minutes and Alabama finally took the lead on a Galin Smith plate with 9:10 left, but the Crimson Tide never had a comfortable space to breathe.
"We turned the ball around too much," Johnson said. "There are not enough times where we had two eyes on the ball, two hands on the ball. But I'm proud of us for overcoming some adversity and beating a very good team. "
Lewis led Alabama in scoring for the second consecutive game, contributing 20 points and three assists. Petty had 16 points and seven rebounds despite missing all four of his 3 points.
"Give Alabama a lot of credit," said Murray State coach Matt McMahon. "They made Ja work for everything he had. He had a great game, but we should have helped him more. Its size made it difficult around the basket. "
Alabama returns to action Thursday night in Central Florida.
Reach Cecil Hurt in email@example.com or 205-722-0225.